Botanicals and immunity: Adequate sample size, safety and pharmacokinetic studies crucial for success

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Adequate sample size, safety and pharmacokinetic studies lacking in current botanical and immunity research says an expert panel ©Getty Images
Adequate sample size, safety and pharmacokinetic studies lacking in current botanical and immunity research says an expert panel ©Getty Images

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The future of botanicals and immunity research should include studies with adequate sample size, long-term safety studies and include more pharmacokinetic data, an expert panel has concluded.

The discussion was held during the third NutraIngredients Immunity Online Series webinar, hosted by NutraIngredients-Asia,​ on the topic of ‘Botanicals and Immunity in APAC’. (Listen on demand here​)

The four-person panel consisted of Dr Stephan Plattner, business development manager at Iprona, Timothee Olagne, global category director at Naturex, Dr Dilip Ghosh, adjunct fellow at the Western Sydney Univeristy and Dr Lesley Braun, director at the Blackmores Institute.

It was hosted by Gary Scattergood, editor-in-chief of NutraIngredients-Asia.

In the botanical space, research in immunity has been growing in the last five years, so the discussion started off by finding out how the experts judged its quality and the scope for improvement.

Dr Braun began by explaining that for all studies in general, it was important to look at the methodology.

Within this, sample size was an area overlooked. She said an adequate sample size was necessary to demonstrate the findings.

Olagne agreed with the need for solid research with a large number of participants.

Dr. Braun added that particularly for botanicals: “It is also important to have clarity on the quality of extract being used and that the dosage used is adequate because not all extracts are the same​.”

Dr. Ghosh agreed and pointed out that it was necessary to conduct more pharmacokinetic studies on botanicals.

Doctors are still reluctant to prescribe these natural botanical medicines, but with more robust pharmacokinetic studies, it might be more accepting​.”

In addition, he said clinical trials on botanicals and immunity must focus on populations that benefit the most from immune support, such as children.

Dr Braun told the panel that in Australia, there was a reluctance to use OTC medicine for children between two to six years old.

But there is also a lack of evidence for botanicals targeting this specific age group for a specific function.

There is a shortage of scientifically validated approaches for them (children), so herbals have a great opportunity here​.”

Above all, Dr Ghosh pointed out that long-term safety studies are lacking in many botanical products currently, and stressed its importance.


The panel also touched on an ongoing crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Ghosh said the market had been flooded with products marketed with immunity claims during the crisis, but warned that not all products or ingredients have been scientifically tested for immunity function.

Olagne added that when it comes to immunity studies, there are many factors involved which make it tedious to portray the benefits.

For instance, he said the immune health system could be affected by poor sleep, or the presence of metabolic syndrome.

He cited some data on Covid-19 patients where 90% of those hospitalised had pre-existing conditions, mostly related to diet and nutrition.

Olagne said his team is currently focusing on diet and nutrition and how it impacts the immune system.

While a Covid-19 vaccine is not available yet, Dr Ghosh described a combination therapy of traditional medicine and pharmaceutical intervention is the best strategy now.

To kill a virus, we need to stop its lifecycle. This can be through viral entry, viral replication, viral assembly, or viral release​.”

There are many receptors and binding mechanisms involved, one drug molecule cannot handle it, so we need a multi molecular approach to this​.”

When asked on potential botanical ingredients, Dr Ghosh named a few with natural immune boosting properties in humans such as Korean red ginseng, curcumin, turmeric, garlic, green tea, elderberry, and black cumin.

In the last few years, cinnamon has also shown immunity modulating properties, and virus entry inhibition​.”

Dr Plattner concluded the session by stating that the number of botanical products will continue to increase in the future, led by two mega trends, the healthy living trend, and also how urbanisation is causing poor nutrition and stress which turns people to products like botanicals.

Dr Plattner and his team will soon be conducting a 300 people clinical study on its elderberry ingredient against flu.

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